Shepherd’s Pie

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I thought that I would post/re-post some delicious Irish recipes. St. Patty’s Day is special in our house because it also happens to be my husband’s birthday (hence the nickname I gave him) so while I personally don’t have so much as an Irish hair on my head, I have made a valiant effort to research and learn some traditional Irish fare. First up is Shepherd’s Pie!

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First off, I need to thank my buddy Kari for putting this back on my radar. Even though I’m married to an Irishman, I completely forgot that shepherd’s pie is delicious, affordable and makes plenty of leftovers.

Before I embarked on my shepherd pie making journey, I asked my husband what he recalled the most about the best shepherd’s pie he ever ate. His response was flavorful meat. Six shepherd’s pies later, this is the recipe that both boys ate with gusto. Here’s what you need:

1 lb. ground beef (you could do any ground meat here)
1 carrot, sliced into rounds
1 large onion
1 packet brown gravy mix
a scant 1/4 cup Worchestershire sauce
2 Tbs. pasta sauce
2 Tbs. flour
1/2 cup cheddar cheese
1 package instant mashed potatoes (feel free to make your own).
a handful of peas (optional)

Preheat your oven at 325 degrees. I usually go ahead and get the mashed potatoes and carrots going. For the carrots, simply slice them thin and put them in a sauce pan of simmering water. Cook them until soft (about 5-10 minutes). Follow the directions on your instant mashed potatoes (I usually get ones that have butter and herbs already incorporated), but it usually consists of boiling water, adding potatoes and stirring. That’s it.

For the meat, you’re going to need a large, deep saute pan. Add a little bit of olive oil and throw your onions in there. Give them about a 5 minute headstart and then add in your ground beef.

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While your ground beef is browning, add your gravy packet to 1 cup of water and dissolve.

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Once the meat is browned, add in the flour…

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and your gravy…

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and the pasta sauce (whatever you have in the fridge is fine)…

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and the Worchestershire sauce. I usually add about a tablespoon or two less than a 1/4 cup.

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Ok folks, just mix it all together, turn the heat to low and let it simmer for about 5 minutes. You will notice it thicken noticeably.

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Time to assemble – first add your meat in the bottom of your casserole dish.

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Then, drain your carrots and add both them and the peas on top of the meat mixture. The Irishman doesn’t care for peas particularly, but he likes the color they add and claims that, “It just isn’t shepherd’s pie without peas.” Who am I to argue with that? So, I just add a handful of frozen peas on top of the carrots.

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Next, I spread the mashed potatoes over the top using a spoon and my fingers to get it evenly on there. I’m usually a mashed potato purist, but I have to say that instant potatoes have come quite far in the last 10 years or so (which is when I last had them).

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Finally, sprinkle on your 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese.

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Now, pop it in the oven at 325 and bake for 20 minutes. And that’s it! Take it out of the oven and serve.

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Honey-Rosemary Garlic Chicken (In the crockpot)

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Ahhh, autumn. Season of leaves drifting softly to the ground, pumpkin flavored everything, and crockpot-cooked meals. While I know that technically, a crockpot can be used year-round, mine only seems to maintain a counter top presence between the months of September and February. Perhaps that’s because it’s best suited for warm, comfort food meals…or perhaps I’m sick of those same meals by March – whatever the reasons, the crockpot has officially re-emerged from the confines of my cabinets.

On Mondays and Thursdays, we have a busy after school schedule. Parker has officially entered the age of 1,000 activities and while I’m determined to limit him to 2 of 3 a semester, it still complicates meal time because we’re out the door by 5pm heading to either Cub Scouts or soccer practice. It takes such a load off my schedule to have a crockpot meal going on those days so that we can eat at any point between 4:30 or 7pm without me needing to stand at attention at the stove.

This recipe is my tinkered version of a Cooking Light meal. While I normally get annoyed when you have to do any browning/cooking of foods before you put it in the crockpot, this one is definitely worth it because it helps the chicken hold together instead of dissolving after hours of cooking. Here’s what you need for this recipe:

Ingredients
6-12 skinless bone-in chicken thighs
3 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 package sliced mushrooms
2 medium onions, cut into rings
4-8 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
salt and pepper to taste

First, go ahead and heat your vegetable oil over medium-high heat and brown your chicken thighs (about 3 minutes per side). While the chicken thighs are browning, slice your onions into rings and add both the onions and the mushrooms on the bottom of the crockpot.

Once your chicken thighs are browned, add them on top of the onions and mushrooms.

rosemary01Now, it’s time to make the sauce! In a bowl, whisk together the honey, cornstarch, chopped rosemary, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper.

rosemary02Once it’s combined, pour it over your chicken.

**I should note that if you’re using chicken breasts instead of thighs, you’ll need to add a bit of chicken broth (less than a 1/4 cup) to the bottom of the pan because the moisture-content is lower for breasts than thighs.**

Now, put a lid on that puppy and cook it on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 3-4. (I’ve never let this go for a full 10 hours, but I’m sure it would be fine even if the chicken started falling apart).

Here, pretend you see a picture of the mushrooms and onions cooked waaaaay down and the chicken thighs a fraction smaller and cooked through. Sadly, I don’t have a picture of the final product dished up because someone (ahem, Irishman) ate it before I could snap it. Ah well, I’m glad it was enjoyed. I hope you like it too!

Sweet Potato Tots and Cinnamon Dipping Sauce

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Almost three years ago, our family took a trip to Savannah, Georgia to meet up with dear friends. I was about 8 weeks pregnant with Lexi and in the throes of morning sickness. We spent a lot of time in restaurants, which means that I spent a lot of time hiding my face in my shoulder trying to block out the smells of food. In fact, about the only thing I ate that whole weekend was sweet potato fries with a vanilla-cinnamon dipping sauce. It was delicious.

I’ve bought sweet potato fries often since then (the Alexia brand is my favorite), but I was at a loss on where to begin making the dipping sauce. Until yesterday. My darling cousin, Kim, posted a picture of Alexia sweet potato tots with a sweet dipping sauce on Facebook and I knew I needed the recipe stat.

Kim said that she made a simple combo of marshmallow fluff and cinnamon (with just a pinch of sugar) for the dipping sauce. I swung by the store on the way home today to pick up the marshmallow fluff and set out to make it for myself.

Now, marshmallow fluff is not something that I normally eat, but with only 40 calories for 2 tablespoons and 6 ingredients (corn syrup, sugar, water, egg whites, xanthan gum and salt), it wasn’t nearly as lethal as I was envisioning when I was on my way to pick it up from the store. Mind you, I wasn’t to be deterred, but I’m happy that it wasn’t the kryptonite that I thought.

I wanted the consistency to be a bit thinner than straight marshmallow fluff, so I heated up the fluff in a ramekin for 10 seconds and added a splash of half and half. I also added a healthy amount of cinnamon (maybe a 1/2 teaspoon) and then I whisked it for a good 60 seconds. At first, it’s going to look like the fluff and the milk won’t incorporate, but just keep whisking. I promise it will!

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The best part is that after the dip returns to room temperature, it will thicken up slightly and turn into a delicious, creamy dip. This dip is so insanely delicious that I plan on serving the sweet potato tots and dip to the kids for dessert from now on. Enjoy!

Chopped Salad To Die For

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Back in February, I went to my friend Kristin’s house for a girls night. She served us gals a bunch of delicious things, but none of them was as notable as this chopped salad. I literally paused after my first bite to exclaim, “Holy crap – what is in this? It’s delicious!” After that, I scarfed down the rest of the salad (and got a second helping) in record time.

She sent me the link to the recipe originally found on cookitallergyfree.com (you can find that original recipe here), but I’ve since modified it to suit my tastes. In fact, that’s the best thing about this salad – add in what you like, leave out what you don’t and I’d bet my favorite hat that it’s delicious. The secret is in the homemade dressing, which is the real gem of this recipe.

Dressing:

1 cup buttermilk*
1 cup mayo (I use Vegannaise)
1/2 cup prepared pesto sauce (I use the jarred one from the pasta isle)
2 Tbs. lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

*I never have buttermilk on hand, so I just add a tablespoon of vinegar to a cup of milk and let it sit for 5 minutes. Presto – you have buttermilk!

Now, just add all of the dressing ingredients together in a mixing bowl and whisk together until combined. I mix mine together in a large glass measuring cup that has a rubber lid (I think it’s made by Anchor and I got it from WalMart). I like the easy pour spout of the measuring cup and the lid is helpful because you can stir it, pour it and cover it for next time. I know this dressing lasts for at least 5 days because that’s how many days in a row I ate it when I first got the recipe.

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Okay, now for my preferred salad ingredients.

Salad Ingredients:

Mixed lettuces (usually whatever is at the Farmers Market)
Diced tomatoes
Diced carrots
Diced onions
Diced baby bella mushrooms
Chopped broccoli
Sunflower seed kernels
Chopped walnuts
Chopped dried cherries
Roasted corn*
Chopped smoked salmon (for me) or diced chicken (for the Irishman)

*I only add the roasted corn if I’m feeling fancy. To roast it, I just buy the organic frozen corn kernels, put them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and roast them for 30 minutes in a 300 degree over. They need to cool completely for the salad, so you can make them ahead of time easily.

Okay, the key to this salad is that the chopped lettuce (which you should chop pretty finely) is only about 1/6 the volume of the total salad. For most traditional salads, the lettuce is the main event and the sides just briefly make an appearance. For this chopped salad, every ingredient gets equal billing.

The original recipe’s website has an awesome presentation where everything is lined up beautifully. I’d probably take the time to do that if I wanted the WOW factor, but since I’m mostly just serving this for myself, I just throw all of the ingredients in a bowl, drizzle a healthy amount of the dressing on top, toss it really well so that everything is coated and call it a day.

For me, the best thing about a chopped salad is that every single bite has dressing on it. I mean, don’t you just hate when the top of your salad is saturated with dressing, yet the sad little lettuce leaves on the bottom of your bowl are bereft of any dressing love? Why did it take me over 3 decades to figure out the beauty of a chopped salad?

The important thing is that I now know and I’ll never go back to whole lettuce leaf salads.  If you’re looking at this and thinking, “That looks great, but I don’t have the time to chop all those ingredients up every single time I want this salad!” Have no fear – here’s what you do.

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1. Chop all of your lettuce finely and put it in an extra large mason jar (or other airtight salad04storage container).

2. Chop your veggies (I usually do everything but the tomatoes, which can be runny) finely and put them in a separate container. *Hint – I layer the veggies as I chop them so that when I shake the mason jar, they distribute easily.

3. Combine your dry ingredients (nuts, sunflower seeds, dried cherries) and put them in a third container.

When you’re ready to assemble your salad, just shake out some lettuce, some veggies and some of your dry mix. Chop up your tomato and your protein (smoked salmon or cooked chicken), throw it in there and add in as much of the dressing that you want. With everything thing pre-chopped you can eat this every day of the week with virtually zero additional prep time.

Hope you enjoy this as much as I do!

Stuffed Mushrooms: A Gift From The Gods

This week officially marks the last week of my semester. Halle-freakin-lujah! It has been an amazing semester, but an incredibly busy one as well. I can’t tell you what a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders now that things are winding to a close. I feel relaxed, satisfied with another academic year under my belt.

I think part of my peace of mind comes from finally feeling settled in our house. There’s a calm here that is soothing. If houses have souls, ours has the soul of a happy retiree rocking away on the front porch. Sure, the kids run around like maniacs and the Irishman and I can scarcely hear each other over the combined cacophony of the Phineas and Ferb sountrack and our barking dogs, but for some reason, I’m not nearly as frazzled by it as I should be. Or perhaps it’s just that my wine consumption has increased. Either way, things feel good right now.

The first visible sign that I’m feeling back in control of things is that I start cooking again. Or rather, that I start experimenting and trying new recipes again. My parents arrived in town a couple of days ago and we finally picked a patio set for the deck (pictures to come soon) so we decided to grill burgers and shrimp on the deck. While we were having our usual baked potato and salad for a side, I wanted to try something new as well.

I found these beautiful, large stuffing mushrooms at our local grocery store so I decided to make baked stuffed mushrooms.

Hello lovelies.
Hello lovelies.

The next step was figuring out what the heck to stuff them with. So, I did what I usually do: I looked at about 20 different online recipes and then I checked the contents of my fridge. The resulting recipe is the brain child of this method and man, it was good.

Here’s what you need:

About 1 dozen large mushrooms wiped clean (gently remove the stems and reserve)
3 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup onion
6 oz. whipped cream cheese
1/4 cup or so grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
drizzle of olive oil

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees (I started at 375, but the mushrooms started to brown too quickly). Go ahead and dice your mushroom stems, garlic and onion. Next, heat your olive oil over medium high heat in a saute pan. Once the oil is hot, add in the mushrooms, garlic and onion and saute for about 4 minutes.

Cook, baby, cook!
Cook, baby, cook!

In a separate bowl, add in your cream cheese and Parmesan cheese. I prefer the whipped variety of cream cheese because it’s easier to stir and work with, but you could use regular cream cheese just as easily. Once your veggies are done sautéing, add them into your cheese mixture and add in salt and pepper (to taste) as well.

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Once you’ve thoroughly mixed the filling, go ahead and spoon it into the mushroom caps.

mushroom4In case you were wondering, I have the mushroom caps sitting on a cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper, which is my favorite non-stick cooking surface. You could use foil or just grease the pan as well. Now, pop these beauties into the preheated oven and cook them anywhere from 15-25 minutes (it all depends on the size of the mushrooms). I started checking them at 15 minutes, but the cheese filling wasn’t bubbly until 25 minutes – these suckers were huge!

mushrooms5Most of my recipes generally get a couple rounds of tinkering before I decide to share them with you, but these stuffed mushrooms were so tasty and so simple to throw together that I wanted you to have the recipe immediately. Hope you enjoy!

 

 

Christmas Morning Tradition: A Breakfast Casserole

Since the first year that my husband and I spent as a married couple, I have been making this breakfast casserole on Christmas morning. I recall my mom spending hours in the kitchen on Christmas morning and I vowed to find an easier way to make a memorable meal without missing all of the excitement in the living room. This is a one dish casserole that takes about 40 minutes to bake and it is exceedingly delicious.

Here’s what you need:

1 package of sausage, cooked and crumbled
1 chopped green onion
2 cups shredded cheese (we use cheddar)
6 eggs, beaten
1 cup water
1 packet country gravy mix
1 package hashbrowns

First, put the sausage and onion in the bottom of your casserole dish. Next, spread the cheese over the top. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, water and country gravy mix and pour the combined mixture over the cheese. Finally, add the hashbrowns on top.

Generally, I brown the sausage on Christmas Eve so that the entire recipe comes together in minutes. Bake this hearty casserole at 325 degrees for 40 minutes, which is usually about how long it takes to open presents and clean up the wrapping paper that is strewn all over the floor.

I suppose I could make this at other times of the year, but there’s something special about a recipe that the Irishman is awaiting as eagerly as Parker awaits Santa’s visit.

Merry Christmas and Happy Eatings!

Make Ahead Sausage Biscuits

One of the biggest challenges in Parker’s transition from pre-school to kindergarten was the loss of the morning snack. Like me, he isn’t really a big breakfast eater. Sure, he’ll eat a little something, but it usually takes a couple of hours for him to really build an appetite. In pre-school, the schedule was perfect for this. He’d get there around 8am, they’d have outside play and then snack time was at 9:30am. This year is a whole different ball game. We’re out of the house by 7:30am and lunch is at 11am – that’s a long time for a little guy to go without eating.

So this fall, I’ve had to put a bit more thought into breakfasts. Even knowing that he’ll be hungry in a couple of hours, Parker still can’t/won’t eat a big breakfast, so I’ve gotten smarter about making sure that his breakfast is staying with him longer. For the first couple of weeks, we had been giving him two whole grain waffles with peanut butter in the middle (served like a sandwich) and while that had been holding him over, he was getting bored with it.

Last week, I decided to try something new – homemade sausage biscuits. Parker is always asking for them at the store, but I’ve been avoiding buying them for a couple of reasons: (1) they’re expensive – a box can run you $8; (2) they’re made with factory farmed pork, which I try to avoid.

Thankfully, we have a local farm that raises their own pigs (free-range) and processes their own meats. We’ve bought their pork chops, bacon and sausage and it’s amazing how fresh it is compared to the store bought meat. I picked up a pound of sage sausage last week (which was slightly more expensive than Jimmy Dean, but still cheaper than buying the boxed sausage biscuits) and a canister of refrigerated biscuits (because let’s face it – who has time to make biscuits from scratch?!).

I rolled the sausage into patties, baked the biscuits and assembled my little sausage biscuits. Once they were cooled, I wrapped them in foil and put them directly into the freezer. I made 10 biscuits for $5.25, which isn’t too bad considering that the pork is organic and local.

The best part is that in the mornings, the Irishman can just take the sausage biscuit out of the foil, wrap it loosely in a paper towel and microwave it for 60 seconds. Parker gets a high-protein breakfast, I don’t have to mess around with cooking in the mornings and I still feel pretty good about what he’s consuming. Paired with a banana and a glass of milk, he has a full tummy all the way up to lunch time and his griping has ceased (which I’m sure his teacher is thankful for as well).

I’m glad I can now add these to my repertoire of cook ahead breakfasts (which include my breakfast burritos) – I’m all about putting in a bit of time on the front end to save loads of time on the back end. Enjoy!